How to Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season

The holidays are a season for family, friends, and fun. But it doesn’t take much for all that packed-in merriment to become overwhelming.

Between all the parties, the travel, the treats, and just plain disruption to your routine, self-care can quickly fall to the wayside—leaving you feeling tired, stressed, and maybe even guilty.

But even in the midst of the winter whirlwind, you can stay both happy and healthy this holiday season. Follow these tips to enjoy the season without sacrificing self-care:

Be realistic
December is no time to jumpstart a new diet. In fact, depriving yourself in the face of so much temptation can lead to binges—which usually means eating even more junk than you would have in the first place.

Instead, let yourself indulge—in moderation. Try to use the 90/10 rule—eat healthy 90 percent of the time, and treat yourself the other 10 percent.

Plan your food
Take advantage of those non-festivity meals like lunch to pack in the veggies and other nutrients you aren’t getting at parties. You can also preempt binging on cookies at a party by eating a healthy light meal or snack before heading out.

As much as possible, maintain a normal eating schedule. This will help you prevent those moments of starvation where you want to eat everything in sight.

Bake smarter
When you’re bringing a dish to share at an event, make it a healthy one that you’ll enjoy eating. That way, you know you’ve got at least one guilt-free tasty snack available when the snacking starts.

When you bake cookies or other treats, experiment with healthy swaps in your recipe, such as using fruit purees instead of butter. You might be surprised by what you don’t miss.

Go small
Use tricks to help yourself eat smarter without feeling deprived. Taking small plates at the buffet table will prevent you from taking too much at once. It also helps if you take generous portions of healthy dishes, and smaller portions for treats. 

Pace yourself
You can also help yourself eat less by munching slowly and spreading out your food enjoyment. Give yourself time between trips to the buffet, too—it can take your body about 20 minutes after eating to alert your mind that you’re full.

Stay hydrated
Drinking enough water can be hard when you’re out of your normal routine, and especially if you’re traveling. But when you get thirsty, your body can misinterpret the signals as hunger and cause you to overeat. Avoid this my making it a point to drink more water during the holidays. 

If you need more incentive, staying hydrated can have some other benefits you’re sure to enjoy during this season, too, such as reducing fatigue, boosting your immune system, and keeping your skin looking great for those holiday photos.

Say no
Whether it’s an offer for a cookie, a party, or a gift circle, you’re always allowed to opt out with a simple “no, thank you.”

Limits and boundaries can be especially important during the holiday season, as the amount of events (and treats) on your plate can escalate quickly. If you stretch yourself beyond your limits, you’ll quickly become stressed and unhappy. Only say “yes” to the things that will enhance your enjoyment of the season.

Schedule fitness time
Regular exercise isn’t just good for the number on the scale—it also helps you manage stress and feel better. Get your workouts in during the chaotic time of holiday parties and travel by blocking it out on your calendar. Working out first thing in the morning can prevent scheduling conflicts.

Even if it’s too snowy out to go for a run, there’s plenty of ways to get a workout in. Find one you enjoy or try this no-equipment, do-anywhere circuit from the Mayo Clinic.

Set a challenge
If you need more motivation to keep your fitness on track, sign up for a race or other fitness challenge in January. The challenge will help you keep your eye on the prize, rather than the snooze button.

Get your zzz’s
It can be hard to catch enough sleep every night when there’s always another party to go to, and in the morning there’s still work, kids, pets, and the rest of normal life demanding our attention. Pace yourself, and try to stay as close to your normal sleep pattern if you can.

Holidays are meant to be enjoyed

The holidays should be a time for fun with friends and family. Don’t let the demands (or the temptations) of the season become a source of stress, guilt, or extra pounds. With a few simple tricks to stay in control of your holiday activity, you can enjoy all the perks of the season without overwhelming yourself.

Happy holidays!